Kittens under 4 weeks of age are considered still nursing, and are too young to wean. Specific protocols for caring for nursing bobcat kittens are covered in the Kitten Nursing class. During this impressionable stage of life, extreme care should be taken to avoid having the bobcat kitten imprint on humans. Should the bobcat become imprinted on humans, it can significantly decrease its candidacy for release.
The rehabilitation process for orphaned bobcat kittens starts with a focus on weaning them. If the bobcat kittens are too young to wean, we try to make arrangements for a surrogate cat to feed them until they are old enough to wean.
Surrogate Mother Cats
Depending on the nursing stage of the kitten, a foster family may need to be acquired. Weaning can typically be accomplished between 4-6 weeks of age. If the kitten can be weaned within a few days, a foster family will not be necessary. If weaning will not be possible for a week or more, or if the bobcat kittens are too young to wean, we try to make arrangements for a foster family, which includes a surrogate mother cat to feed them until they are old enough to wean.
Shelters are usually willing to transfer a nursing mother cat with kittens to Big Cat Rescue for the purpose of becoming a foster family to the orphaned bobcat kitten. Ideal candidates are nursing mother cats who have already adopted other domestic kittens that are not her own. The foster family should be tested for infectious disease, treated for parasites, and vaccinated accordingly.
Watch the video to see Bobbi, a stellar domestic surrogate mother cat, adopt three bobcat kittens.
Introduction of the bobcat kitten to the foster family should be done in a quiet area once the foster family has settled in. Once settled, you can follow these steps to introduce the bobcat kitten to the foster family:
- Introduce the bobcat kitten to the domestic kittens, away from the mother cat.
- Transfer the scent of the bobcat onto the domestic kittens by petting the bobcat, then petting the domestic kittens.
- Once enough scent has been transferred, place the domestic kittens back with their mother.
- She will immediately begin sniffing them.
- If she accepts them back warmly it is safe to try and place the bobcat kitten with her. If she hisses at the scent of the bobcat she will require more time getting used to this new scent prior to introducing the bobcat.
Keep in mind that not all foster mothers will accept the bobcat kitten. Close observation should take place during this process to ensure the mother does not attack the bobcat kitten, that she does not ignore the bobcat, and that she provides adequate care.
Weaning should be encouraged as soon as possible to avoid too much socialization with the bobcat kitten. From weeks 4-12, the kitten should be fed twice per day, once in the morning and once in the evening.
To begin the weaning process, formula should be added to a small amount of ground turkey – funny enough, bobcat kittens seem to prefer ground turkey. Once the kitten takes to the mixture the amount of milk should be decreased slightly with each feeding over the course of a few days until the kitten is eating just the meat.
Watch this video to see how the ground turkey and formula is prepared and fed to two bobcat kittens.
During the next few days, mush should be gradually added to the turkey while the amount of turkey is gradually decreased until the kitten is eating only the mush. Mush is a protein that provides a balanced diet for the kitten, and it is better suited for a growing bobcat kitten until it is consuming whole prey. Once the kitten is readily eating mush, whole prey can be introduced.
The following is a breakdown of what the kitten will eat during and after these weeks:
- 4-6 weeks: the kitten will wean using ground foods
- 6-10 weeks: the kitten should be supplemented with chicks (1.1oz) and medium rats (1.9oz).
- During these weeks the ground diet should be decreased until the kitten is consuming only whole prey.
- 10 weeks: the kitten can move up to large rats (8oz) which should be divided in half, one half fed in the morning and the other half fed in the evening.
- 12 weeks: the kitten can be fed 1 large rat, once a day.
- 13 weeks: live prey (medium rats) can be introduced using the feeding station.
- 14 weeks: once the kitten is proficient at capturing the medium rats in the feeding station, it can graduate to being fed via the tunnel system at week 14.
- 15 weeks: large rats should be introduced and fed using the feeding station.
- 16 weeks: the kitten can graduate large rats fed via the tunnel system 5 days a week and small rabbits fed 2 days a week (Tuesdays and Fridays).
The final stage of live prey feeding occurs at the age of 6 months; live small rabbits will replace the whole prey rabbits. Since we don’t currently have an alternative solution for feeding rabbits whole or live, the Bobcat Rehab Program Manager performs this duty by than entering the enclosure and placing them inside.
As mentioned above, we use a feeding station to introduce bobcat kittens to live prey. The feeding station was designed to mimic a den site; this simulates the way in which a mother bobcat would bring whole, live prey to her young kittens, which is contained in a secured environment, allowing for the kitten to have ample time to investigate, capture, and consume.
The feeding station is a large crate with a hole cut out of the top big enough for the bobcat to enter the crate. A ledge should be left along the perimeter of the hole to provide the bobcat with sufficient area to jump up and perch. The wire door of the crate allows for the bobcat to see the contents prior to entering, enticing interaction with the live prey that is deployed on or into the feeding station with the aid of a timed delivery mechanism.
To encourage the initial use of the feeding station, whole prey foods are placed near the crate in plain view for the bobcat to find.
Watch the video starting at 2:05 to see a demonstration of how we initially encourage bobcats to use the feeding station.
Once the bobcat has learned to approach the crate for food, the whole prey is placed inside the crate. With the prey placed into the mechanism and the timer set, the Bobcat Rehab Keeper should leave the area. The prey will be released 30 minutes later, ensuring that it is not positively associated with the presence of a person.
Bobcats will quickly catch on to the feeding station – it only takes a few days. Once they get used to it, they will immediately jump onto and enter the crate to retrieve food. When the bobcat is skilled at entering the crate for food, live prey can be introduced. Wild bobcats have an innate response to being exposed to live prey for the first time and will quickly dispatch the prey even though they have had no formal training.
Click on the Mark Complete button to go to Lesson 3.1B: Diet & Feeding Techniques for Adult Bobcats.